The 2010s: A Decade Retrospective

It’s the start of a new decade (unless you want to be pedantic about when decades begin), and what better time than this, to look back at the 2010s, a decade when I stepped into adulthood, got a couple of degrees, and began my career. I’ve broken it into chunks delineated by the aforementioned academic and professional milestones. 

2009-2010: The Entrance Exam Gauntlet

Although the decade began in 2010, I want to include 2009 here as well, because that was a crucial time in my life. Crucial, because 2009 was when I began taking the steps towards who I am today. 

Of course, at the time it felt like walking barefoot on a gravel path to no destination or jumping headlong into a dark maelstrom of confusion, but I digress.  

Some background- I was a teenage kid in Junior College, in the “science stream”, working towards the end goal of a degree in engineering and a career in the tech industry. I was just one among thousands, lakhs, even millions of kids in their late teens, going through the meat grinder, or the sugarcane juice machine if you will. 

This two-year period is one of the most mind-numbing periods of the aforementioned teenagers’ lives. All you’re expected to do is pore over textbooks, the only thing anyone ever asks you about is how your studies are going. It usually feels like you’re being pushed through a current having no control over where you are heading- most of the time you do these things because that’s the ordained way of things, the only realistic and practical way of ensuring financial stability in the future. Whether that is right or wrong is another matter- on the one hand, the kids themselves aren’t allowed to explore what they want to do in life, but on the other hand, securing financial independence allows for a better standard of living.

At the end of this period, lies the final challenge- a gauntlet of entrance examinations, the culmination of every academic effort in life up until that point. 

Of course, I ran the gauntlet, along with scores of other teenagers and to cut a long story short, let’s just say I managed to earn admission into an engineering college. 

Physically and mentally, I was a hormone-addled teenager. Emotionally, the situation was like a bandaid being slowly ripped off- the realization that there was no “set for life”, that there was no “it’ll be easier after you just do this one thing”. An understanding that from then onwards, I would only have more work and less time, that there was no real respite from the “rat race” as everyone likes to call it. You may come out of the meat grinder that is life as a junior college or higher secondary student a fine, stringy, homogeneous paste of a human being, but the real change is the one that lives forever in your brain. 

Until very recently, I used to look down upon this time as being one of the worst and most traumatic times of my life, but being ten years(!) removed from it, I can sift through the mud and gravel and cherish the nuggets of gold: the friends I made during those times. Friends who are there for me to this day. The traumatic and stressful times may have served to forge the friendship well enough to see me through the decade and beyond. 

2010-2014: Engineering College

A large chunk of the past decade was spent in securing a higher education. Engineering College was a highly regimented affair but a lot of things stand out to me even still. First and foremost, is life as a student at Mumbai University. The university was trying new things at the time, changing things about the way exams are conducted, and to say that they sprung a few surprises on us would be an understatement. I’m grateful for that experience though- it taught us to deal with unforeseen situations in a way that would have taken us decades to learn otherwise.  

Another major thing I did at Engineering College was becoming the co-editor of the college magazine, and the co-organizer of literary events. Experience organizing events was a stressful but rewarding experience that involved dealing with bureaucracy, getting the word out, and getting people to attend, among other things. 

However, the key thing I always take away from my years in College was how they shaped my tastes. This was the time when I began listening to music for long stretches, whether it be the long walks to and from college, or just long walks around my neighborhood to clear my head, I began forming the habit of listening to whole albums rather than just a song or two to pass the time. 

This was also the time I began writing things for the sake of it, writing that wasn’t just for an examination. Shout out to “The Collegian World” and another website that was a football blog whose name I don’t remember- they were my first forays into writing about things that interest me. 

Feelings wise, I started to get a grip on my emotions by maintaining a journal. I still believed that feelings had meanings in and of themselves- I kept thinking about what I felt like over and over again and kept coming back to the same spot. The listless and mostly routine life probably kept me in the mindset of doing the same thing over and over again and somehow brute-forcing my way into a breakthrough. 

As far as friends go, I think I made some good ones. This was the time I began understanding that the older I get, the less dense the ties of friendship would get. At least in college, it was a lot more of “we’re all in this together” and less of “but what can you do for me, though?” 

All in all, I’d describe my days in Engineering College as rowing a makeshift raft, traveling to islands of activity on a mostly still, yet unpredictable ocean. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

2014-2016: Grad School

As the decade rolled on, my overall life experience kept going up. It all reached a crescendo between the years 2014 and 2016 when I entered grad school in an attempt to get a Master’s degree. I took an elective called “Human-Computer Interaction” in my final semester in college, and I liked it enough to spend another 2 years making that my Master’s degree specialization. 

Studying in grad school was so different from whatever I was subjected to up until that point- the weekly assignments were intense, but there was a degree of “freedom within the framework” that I wasn’t able to fully exercise up until that point. There were rubrics, of course, but there was also a degree of autonomy which made me apprehensive at first but was something I learned to love as time went on. 

I also lived with roommates in an alien country and culture half a world away from where I was born. A lot of the real learning stemmed from this experience. The first of which was being extracted from a sheltered, privileged existence, and being forced into a kind of semi-autonomy, or controlled autonomy. Just enough autonomy to learn basic things like taking care of myself, while still being largely financially dependent on my parents. 

While my friends in college gave me a feeling of camaraderie; the people I met at grad school were a lot less interested in any form of “stick-together-ness”. Most of the students in my class were older than me and were a lot more jaded due to their experiences in the corporate machine. They often chose to keep their professional and personal lives separate, and were unwilling to let me, a bright-eyed fresh out of college kid with “naive” notions of companionship, into their lives in any earnest way. 

I used to get very peeved at this cynical and transactional approach to life. I just wasn’t used to it. Perhaps if I had more people close to my age and experience level, I would have had a different experience. I did learn to deal with it after a conversation with other people in similar situations. I realized I couldn’t continue being mad at them for wanting different things and going about things differently- their moral compasses were pointing in a different direction to mine, and their destinations were different even though they appeared to be the same at first glance. Grad school was just a stopping point along the way. 

Despite how purely transactional my experiences with fellow students may have been, I’m glad my roommates were the polar opposite. You have to meet the right people at the right times as they say, and my roommates were exactly the sort of people I needed to experience to fully understand the gravity of my life situation at the time. 

I shared a 2 bedroom apartment with a few people in my two-year tenure at Grad school. I experienced people from surprisingly different backgrounds despite usually being from around the same age and backgrounds. It was their lived experiences that I was able to learn a lot from. A lot of my roommates had lived through the struggles of finding a job and keeping it- whether it be dealing with corporate culture in the workplace, or being able to think on your feet as a traveling engineer tasked with solving a whole host of technical and people-centered issues; they had a lot of stories to tell. 

It wasn’t just the stories, though- a lot of the things I learned were from simply observing their lifestyle. The urgency when it came to applying for jobs or internships. The waking up early every day to catch a bus and go to work as an intern just to get a foot in the door in the industry. The networking with colleagues and professors to ensure they knew about every opportunity. It was witnessing these everyday actions that spurred me on to act on my career, and I’ll be forever grateful for that. 

Otherwise, I continued getting better at dealing with my emotions through journaling, continued getting better at being more affable to people, and had just the right amount of challenges and struggles in life to grow as a person. The best years of my life so far.

2016-onwards: Employment and “The Routine”

At the end of my time at Grad school, I was fortunate enough to land a job opportunity to begin as soon as I graduated. There is a huge difference between life as a Master’s student and life as a professional. Life in Grad school was a mile a minute- a lot of things were happening at once, and the frequency of experiences and achievements was very high. Life as a professional, however, is a lot less eventful and varied. Not that that’s a bad thing- having a routine and an occupation is just a part of adulthood. 

The thing with having a routine set in life is that a lot of the days just go by really quickly, and before you know it, you’ve been working for over three years. That’s just the thing isn’t it- the routine is just so all-consuming, that you don’t think about all the good things that have happened to you or the challenges you’ve faced. It’s all just one strong current that washes over the rocks and slowly grinds down all the facets until all you’re left with are smooth pebbles. 

I am thinking about all the little things now, though. A lot of good things happened, albeit they weren’t landmarks of personal achievement. Met some good people. Formed some connections. Kept putting one foot ahead of the other, and just kept on walking. A lot of the time, that’s all I did, and that’s fine. If you keep looking for the big wave to surf, you miss the hundreds of gentle ones that barely tickle your feet. 

That’s the major theme of this, the current period of my life. Mindfulness and gratitude. Being mindful of every small thing. Being grateful for everything I’ve received and earned up until this point. The concept of gratefulness is hard to fathom when you’re going through a rough patch in life when everything seems like it’s going against you. The funny thing about it is that beginning to fathom it is in and of itself a key step towards knowing that the bad times and bad mindsets are beginning to change. 

I won’t mince my words about it- in 2019 I faced and overcame, some of the biggest challenges I have ever experienced. I learned a lot from them. I found out that I am a lot more resilient than I thought I was. That I am a lot more loved than I thought I was. That I wasn’t as lonely as I physically appeared to be. 

I was able to find a group of people facing similar life situations and find support in our common challenges. I was able to make life more comfortable for myself, by moving into a nicer apartment and buying a car. For all these things, I am grateful. In fact, I am even grateful for the challenges I have faced. As the saying goes,

“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”

Lessons for 2020 and beyond

Looking at this past decade, I’ve learned some things by living through them over and over again. Most notably, that tough times don’t last, and that you shouldn’t miss out on being mindful of the small things that bring you joy while you search for that big surge of dopamine to hit you like how your brain reacted when you experienced eating icecream for the first time. Pure, unbridled joy is an amazing thing, no doubt.  Remembering to note every small nice thing is sometimes what you need to do, though. They’re like little matchsticks you can keep in your back pocket. Sometimes a little spark is all you need when darkness envelopes you. 

Another thing I’ve learned is that financial independence really gave me a place in society that makes all the struggles worth it- for me at least. A lot of people reminisce about old times and how it was simpler back then and always dream of going back to when they had fewer responsibilities. I don’t mind the responsibilities, at least at this point in life. The independence and sheer amount of agency that I have in life negate any of the desires to go back to a time where I had fewer responsibilities.

Also, I re-framed my mental image as someone’s idiot brother or someone’s disappointing son, or someone’s weird cousin. I was finally able to truly imbibe that fact that I’m loved by my family despite the mistakes I may have made, and that they’re truly proud of what I’ve achieved in life. 

All in all, this decade was all about getting an education and a means of gainful employment. In achieving all those goals though, I lived through a whole host of different experiences. I grew as a person, into whoever I am today. I went from being a hormonally charged teenager to a pretty chill but somewhat impulsive adult. I went from being engulfed in emotions to learning to give them their time in the sun while also finding and dealing with the root cause. I went form taking friends and family for granted to understanding that the ties of blood and friendship are so much more important than chasing pieces of paper or numbers on a screen. 

The 2010s were a decade where I really grew into my own. It was less of metamorphosis and more of a mundane transition, but sometimes the biggest changes are the ones you don’t outwardly see. Here’s to more growth and change in the years to come. 

[VIDEO] Sedanocalypse: The Crossover SUV Trend

As a video content creator, I’ve always been interested in trying out new things, and dabble in new formats. I felt like it was time to explore interviewing someone. I had a discussion with my colleague Shasank “Shank” Nagavarapu, where we discussed the latest trend in the US Car Market, which is the trend towards buying Crossovers or SUVs instead of traditional family Sedans.

You can view the playlist here, or you can click on the links below.

Part 1 goes into explaining the trend and the key factors behind it.

Part 2 dives deeper into the key trade-offs people make when they decide to go for an SUV or a Crossover.

Part 3 concludes the discussion with a chat about the future of the US Car Market.

Let me know what you think in the comments! I would appreciate any constructive feedback.

As always, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, and follow Shasank’s work on his website, nomadunplugged.com.

Side profile picture of a car, hatchback.

My First Car

I achieved a significant milestone this month— for the first time in my life, I am a car owner. It’s yet to sink in, to be honest. After years of searching, window shopping online, years of research and years of back and forth- I found a great car at a great price, and I had the means to procure it. I even made a quick video about it.   

Here’s my video. Let me know what you think. And as always, like, share, and subscribe!

I’ve talked at length about how my thinking about cars changed when I moved to the Midwest. I’ve talked about how having a car unlocks a new level of “American” experience that is totally hidden from view otherwise. I have just started to witness this experience unfold. I’ve been to places new and old in these past few weeks. New places, like the tire shop, to the title agency, to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles… but I’ve also revisited familiar places to experience them in a new light. The parking garage at work. The grocery store. The park. The library. The places are the same, but every time I go somewhere, it feels like I have arrived. 

I’ve also talked about the different schools of thought when it comes to cars— cars as an appliance, and cars as an aspiration and a lifestyle. One of my biggest fears was that I would buy a car that was nothing but a daily driving, point-a-to-point-b taking appliance. The mental image is clear as day. A beige Toyota Camry, with faded cataract headlights, and a dirty, brown interior. As dreary as flavorless cornflakes with cold milk for breakfast on a dull, rainy day.  

The ultimate symbol of reliable mediocrity.

The cars I am lambasting are great machines, no doubt. Marvels of engineering, even. But my problem is what they stand for. To me, they stand for a resignation to one’s fate. The acceptance of a stereotype. The submission of my personal agency to the all-powerful forces of nature and society. The forces that tell you to do things a certain way, at a certain time, and just because that’s the pre-ordained way of things because they said so. 

I remember what was on my mind when I made my video about cars. I was dejected. I had been looking for “fun” cars, namely the Toyota 86 and the Golf GTI. However, I was unable to find good examples online despite messing with umpteen filters on umpteen different car-buying websites. 

But as they say, good things come to those who wait, and boy did I wait. I waited as good listings came and went because I was waiting for the perfect one. The perfect confluence of the car that I want for the price that I want. When I did find the perfect one, I didn’t hesitate to get a test drive and make an offer. At the end of all of this, I became the proud owner of a 2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI. 

I wish I could go back to the past and tell myself I don’t have to worry about giving in to the “car as an appliance” mindset. I feel like I won a round against an undefeated “heavyweight champion” that goes by many names— time, fate, societal norms, the inherent absurdity of the universe. He may be destined to win in the end, but right now, at this moment, I am looking him right in the eyes and going, “Not today, champ. Not today.”

“Brainiac” and the Tesla-ification of a spirited driving vehicle

I’ve been obsessed with the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ for years now. What interests me about it is that Toyota and Subaru committed to the purebred concept of the roadster, with front engine, rear wheel drive, and playful handling as the most important aspects of the design. This design philosophy also translated into a bare-bones, functional interior with minimal creature comforts and simple hard controls for climate and media. 

The bare-bones interior of the 86/FR-S/BRZ designed with spirited driving in mind.

Another positive for car enthusiasts is that the vehicle lends itself well to modifications- Toyota and Subaru knew their target audience would be car enthusiasts who’d love to tinker with their vehicle, and hence made it easy for them to access the mechanical and electronic parts of the vehicle. And tinker they did- a simple web search will yield hundreds of different possibilities, from headlights/tail lights to exhaust to wheels, even swapping out the engine!

Now, I spend a lot of time watching videos and browsing through forums for this vehicle- think of it as window shopping. As a result of this habit, one fine day the Youtube algorithm recommended to me a video about a new(ish) touchscreen head unit for the Subaru BRZ aptly named “Brainiac”. It is a touchscreen interface that combines the media and climate controls into one sleek-looking touchscreen interface. 

Brainiac uses a touchscreen interface sourced from tablet computers, and also comes with bits of fitment and interior panels in place of the components it replaces.

The “Brainiac” piqued my interest because I do a lot of research on automotive infotainment systems at work, and in our practice meetings we tend to discuss how perceptions of a vehicle’s “coolness” or “futuristic quality” end up being translated into “less buttons and knobs”; more specifically into “like the Tesla with its big touchscreen that has everything on it” 

As Human Factors Researchers we know that the trade-off of this “Tesla-ification” is that you lose the immediacy of access that buttons and knobs provide. To put it simply, hard controls like buttons and knobs may appear to be “old school” and “clunky”, but you don’t have to look at them to operate them, which lets you pay attention to the road. 

Paying attention to the road is an important aspect of the design of the Toyota 86- it is a roadster purpose-built to enjoy spirited driving. Cutting through canyons and navigating hairpin turns. Knowing how much grip you have through the tires because of how low you are to the ground. Turning the steering wheel and knowing that the vehicle will go exactly where you’ve pointed it. 

But that’s just my personal opinion- I wanted to know what the community felt about it. My thoughts about this are perfectly echoed by Reddit user TurbochargedSquirrel.

On the other hand, other forums seemed open to the idea of a touchscreen interface just to add a bit more flair to their vehicles.

This split is something we’ve seen in our research for a while now- people who prefer simplicity and want to focus on the driving primarily, and those who want all the bells and whistles that modern technology has to offer. My reservations with replacing traditional controls with touchscreen interfaces remain, but to the credit of the developers of Brainiac, they have added touch gestures to their interface to allow the user to perform actions without having to look. The issue I have with that, however, is that touch gestures usually have to be remembered, and do not have a visual component to them that the user can “follow along” or “trace”. 

So what’s the best of both worlds? What’s a way to maintain the spirit of driving intact while also moving away from old fashioned controls? Designer Kasper Kessels’ concept might just be a bridge between those two worlds. With help from the design department at Renault, he created a concept for incorporating touch gestures into a vehicle’s infotainment that aims to solve the issue of the visual component that touch gestures tend to lack. 

In the end, I’d like to pose the question to you- what do you think about the move towards “Tesla-ifying” in-vehicle infotainment systems? Are we attempting to fix something that’s not broken? Is there a way to create an interface that caters to both spirited drivers as well as technophiles? Let me know what you think! 

[VIDEO] Craft Beer, Fandom, and Serendipity

One of the things I haven’t talked to you guys so far is that I’m a craft beer fan. I really like finding out about local breweries, trying out what they have, and occasionally go out of my way and hunt for a beer that’s hard to find, or a seasonal exclusive. I wanted to talk about how I started this journey as a beer hunter.

Check out the video I made on this topic, and as always: like share, and subscribe.

The story of how I decided to get into craft beer

My story as a craft beer enthusiast began in the summer or fall of 2015. I was a 23 year old in grad school and it was just another weeknight- kicking it, shooting the breeze with some friends, some 90s Bollywood music on the TV, and of course, some run of the mill beer. The beer in question was a Corona which wasn’t particularly good, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

I still get video clips of 90s music starring Bobby Deol.

Anyway, I remember I hadn’t had the best day, and I was hoping to put it behind me. Unfortunately, this unwinding time wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. The tunes on the TV were mostly b-movie fare that my friend put on because they thought it would be funny in an ironic way (it wasn’t). Also, I was texting a girl but it really wasn’t going anywhere- you know when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and there’s just no substance, and you feel like just typing out words on to a screen and nothing has meaning? It was one of those dead-end conversations.

But I was about to put all those worries behind me, I had a beer in hand, a Corona, (no lime) and in just a few moments it was going to help me take the edge off and unwind.

…and the beer had gone bad. It tasted funny and it smelled like skunk. As I sat there, thinking about all the things that had gone wrong, I just kept saying to myself, “There’s got to be something better than this.” I looked at the TV and I said there’s got to be something better than this, I looked down at my phone and I said again, there’s got to be something better than this, and then I looked at the bottle of Corona, the icing on this cake of misfortune, and I said

“There’s GOT to be something better than THIS!”

When I went back to my room that night, I decided I wanted to change something, starting with something simple, like the beer that I drank. Thus began my journey as a craft beer enthusiast.

Getting more into the enthusiast space

Shout out to Sun King Brewing, the first craft brewery I went to.

So I began to do some research about beer- watching videos, reading books about history, how it’s made, and the different types of beer that exist. I went to local breweries and started trying to chat up the employees there about the different beers they had and what went into them, I even have a spreadsheet where I write down what I think about all the unique beers I’ve tried.


All of this made me think about the enthusiast space in general- how you go from having a cursory knowledge about something, and how over time you learn more about it and there’s always just more to learn the deeper you dive into something.


My friends didn’t share this enthusiasm at first- they thought I was being a bit of a snob when I started bringing my own beers to parties. In time I was able to show them the way, though- now they too source their libations from the local brewery, by the growler, and sometimes even by the keg.

Serendipity

Being an enthusiast is all well and good, but sometimes it helps you in ways you don’t expect. A couple of years ago, I was giving a job interview at the company I work at currently, and my to-be boss asked me what I like to do for fun. At that moment, I decided not to give safe answers like reading or writing or being outdoorsy, I simply told him I was a beer enthusiast, and started talking about the experiential qualities of beer and how beer isn’t just beer, that it’s so much more. The gamble worked, it really resonated with him- turns out he was an investor in one of the major craft breweries in Columbus!

I like to think that the answer helped seal the deal for my employment.

In conclusion, I think that fateful night in 2015 was one of the turning points of my life in a bizarre way. Life takes unusual turns sometimes, and you never know how certain things will end up working with other things in synergy. I guess that’s what they call serendipity.

I’d like to end by repeating a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin:

“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Image of a desk and computer setup.

[VIDEO] Life Update- I moved to a new apartment!

I uploaded a life update video to my YouTube channel recently, and I wanted to write a companion post for it. I moved to a nice apartment a few days ago, after three years of living next to a very large university campus.

When I moved to Columbus, I didn’t give myself enough time to do a proper “apartment hunt”- I had to make a decision within one week, and not having any friends or family in this new city added to the challenge. I bet on there being plenty of housing being available near a campus area, so I set out to search for one near the campus of the Ohio State University. Sure enough, I found a few and made a quick decision. It really was quick- I took a Greyhound bus from Indianapolis to Columbus in the morning, looked at about 5 apartments, picked one, gave them my application, and took the evening bus back to Indianapolis the same day. I moved to that apartment about a week and a half later.

Like, share, subscribe.

I was just out of grad school at that point, so all my stuff fit into the back of a minivan. I moved once, and I had a brief idea in my head that I’d move into a nicer apartment sometime the subsequent year. Well, life happened, and I ended up staying there for three years.

The apartment itself was good enough- the building was constructed in the 1950s and the interior was renovated, so in places, it was retrofitted to be contemporary, but the main framework was more mid-century. The real issue I had was the location. In my hurry to find a place to live, I had forgotten to have a look at the surroundings. I’d chosen an apartment with windows facing a busy street, right next to at least 5 campus bars, and within walking distance from a gigantic football stadium.

futon on wooden floor
Humble beginnings

For the next 3 years, I couldn’t escape the vagaries of campus life, even though I’d already graduated. I heard the drunken revelry of loud college students. I heard the babbling rants of drunk drifters and vagabonds. I heard every passing car on the street, and every skateboard on the sidewalk. I heard the game-day tailgaters and their loudspeakers blaring country music and top40 pop from morning through the night, every boisterous shout of “O-H” followed by every equally enthusiastic “I-O!”. I even heard the wannabe boy racers with their speaker systems cranked up to the highest bass setting, and my ancient windows rattled to the beats of trap music each time those speaker-towers-on-wheels passed by.

Despite all these sounds and the resultant disturbances in my sleep pattern, I continued living there, for a myriad of reasons. One was laziness. Every time renewal season came around, I began to half-heartedly look for places to live, but was discouraged by the lack of options in the time frame I wanted and was also discouraged by how I’d have to pay more than what I was paying at the time. Then there were also all the things I’d have to do, like move or change utilities, and of course, move all my stuff, which I had much more of and wouldn’t just fit in the back of a minivan anymore.

Another reason was that I had a protracted visa change process from a student to a work visa, which really pushed plans of moving several months down the road, and I had to stay a little longer as a result.

I ended up just waiting till the decision was made for me- campus apartments are highly sought after by students, and they immediately snapped mine up after I didn’t renew my lease in a few days after the renewal period started. That’s how I finally set in motion the plan to move to a new place- something I’d had in my to-do list since 2017.

I realized how overstated my fears were about the logistical aspects of the move after I began the process a few months ago. Porting over utilities was mostly online and a bit of being on hold on a customer service call. Canceling services wasn’t as much of a headache as I thought it would be.

The actual physical move wasn’t bad either- I was able to get help from a couple of friends (thankfully I was able to make friends and luckily some friends from grad school have moved to the Columbus area since I first arrived here), and renting a moving truck was simple enough.

What I got from all this was a great sense of “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”. Hindsight is always 20-20, but this does tell me I need to stop thinking of hypotheticals that are in my own head sometimes, some unknown obstacles that exist only in my mind. Perhaps I should stop waiting for decisions to be made for me, perhaps I should stop simply continuing to exist in the status quo because of the comfort that exists in certainty and deferring decisions and actions.

In the end, I’m just glad to finally able to live out a desire I have had for a long time. A nice apartment, a lot more peace and quiet, and the fact that it makes me feel like I’m more of a “big boy”, now that I’m completely untethered from the campus lifestyle.

Image of a desk and computer setup.

Pivoting to Video: A few thoughts

It has been a while since I have posted an update on my blog, and not without reason- I have been instead, as the title suggests, pivoting to video. After a few months of using the medium of videos on YouTube to speak about my thoughts and opinions, I have a few takeaways from it that I wanted to talk about through the medium of the written word.

This is a video I made that I’m particularly proud of.

Higher Fidelity

One of the key advantages of using videos is the fact that it allows people to put a face to the name and the words that they hear. Sure, I can put my face on to a blog, but there are verbal and nonverbal cues that the medium of videos helps to communicate, that a simple blog post cannot.

I have been hearing a lot more feedback about my videos than I used to get about my blog. This could partly be because of the novelty factor, but I believe that the higher fidelity of a video format helps to add a new layer of personability, that written words on a screen do not provide.

Write the way you talk, talk the way you write

One of the key goals I have for myself while making videos is to be a better and more direct writer. I want to stop being redundant in my writing, and that starts with me being more clear and concise in my thought and my speech. Practicing my speaking through the Toastmasters program was one step towards that goal, but creating and editing videos adds a new dimension to the process. While editing videos, I have to watch and re-watch each and every word and sentence that I utter. This helps me focus on the mistakes that I make, and also forces me to think of ways to improve.

Also, it helps me practice speaking on a regular basis. As the saying goes,

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

I prefer this quote to “Practice makes perfect” because it’s more actionable and adds the dimension of premeditated preparation to the act of practice. A goal of constant improvement necessitates the need for practice and preparation.

Garnering Feedback

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been getting a lot more feedback on my videos than I got on my written blog posts. Not only that, but the feedback has been a lot more detailed and specific. People tell me what they think about the content of my videos, and they also tell me about the way that I speak, the way that I edit, and so on. Garnering such feedback on multiple aspects of the work that I put out helps me act upon it and improve holistically.

The next step is to incorporate the feedback not only to the videos themselves, but to translate those insights into other aspects of life, mainly my written blogs.

The key insights I have gained

Clarity and conciseness of thought and speech is the first and foremost takeaway in terms of feedback. Another has been maintaining the balance between aesthetic or technical improvements and the content, in such a way that satisfies both me and my audience. The balance between self-indulgence and fan service is tricky but rewarding.

Another insight is not to ruminate on a concept for too long. There’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to introspecting on a topic for too long, and I have come to understand when I have hit that point more clearly now. The need to showcase something that is polished is still there, but there’s also the need to put what’s inside my head, out into the world, so the independent perspectives of the audience at large can help me see things in a light that I had not seen before.

What’s next for the Blog?

To conclude, I’d just like to say that I need to figure out a way to make the videos and the written blogs coexist. It could be to create a written post and transcript of every video that I put out. I could also make video versions of blog posts I’ve made in the past. I want to do this because I want a cohesive strategy between all the things I put out into the world, and I want both videos and blogs to grow and improve together.

In short, I want this “pivot to video” to be the first step towards being a better talker, as well as a better writer.

3.5mm headphone jacks

Why I am an audiophile

 

I like to think of myself as a bit of an audiophile. I’ve spent time and money creating a collection of headphones and some basic sound equipment. I wanted to write about how it all started, how my tastes and habits in music evolved, and where I stand now in terms of audiophilia.

Music in my formative years

My parents had a huge hand in molding my love for music because they are huge fans of music themselves. My parents always start their day listening to Indian classical and semi-classical music. They have quite the knowledge about the different artists and styles of Indian classical music, and my father always took the time to explain to me how particular ragas were best listened to at particular times of the day, for example.

My father has a cassette tape collection that took him years to collect (although he’s since moved on to sharing audio clippings on WhatsApp on a daily basis). I also learned Indian Classical singing for a couple of years and was always a part of the singing groups for events in school, so I’ve been around music ever since my childhood.

With that background in mind, I feel like my most memorable musical memories were formed in my teenage years when I had the means and the opportunity to really listen to music for long periods of time. Music inflames temperament, as Jim Morrison once said. It has the power to shift your mood around if you let yourself be swayed by it. Towards the end of high school and then through junior college and undergrad, my musical interests took shape.

College, earphones, and the internet

In the years after high school, I had a lot more time and opportunity to listen to music- I got my first mobile phone, and the ability to listen to music on the go. At this point, the goal was just to keep myself entertained as I was commuting- to and from college, or tuition classes, or wherever else I was going. I was usually walking or taking the train and needed something to pass the time.

I came up with some ingenious ways to make sure my in-ear style headphones didn’t get tangled.

As I started to listen to more and more music that wasn’t just whatever was on the TV or the radio, I began developing my musical tastes. I remember getting hooked on 60s era rock after I saw the news about The Doors getting the Grammy lifetime achievement award back in 2007. I think VH1 had some special programming for that occasion and played a bunch of their music. A few years prior, that would have been the end of it- I’d have to wait for the next episode to listen to the music on TV again. But I didn’t have to wait anymore, because I had the internet.

The ability to listen to and download music from the internet, and the ability to take it with me and listen to it whenever I wanted, was the genesis of my core musical tastes. Prior to having an internet connection and a mobile phone, I would have had to wait for the song to be played on the telly, or would have had to buy a CD. But now I had an internet connection, and the ability to search for artists similar to The Doors (shout out to last FM). Thus began my first “musical phase”- classic rock. I had plenty of musical phases after that- I remember I had a “Surf Rock” phase, a Shoegaze phase, and an alternative rock phase among others.

They say that you tend to find your favorite music when you’re a teenager. The increased accessibility to music that the internet provided, combined with the fact that it was made available to me in my late teens, formed the foundation of my music listening habits today.

Grad School and analytical music listening

Grad school is when the true audiophile in me began to take shape. As a part of my graduate assistantship, I was assigned to be a grader of an undergraduate level course called “Intro to digital audio”. It went into the basics of digital audio, from the science behind it to recording, playing, and editing audio files. One of the tasks I was assigned was grading the assignments of 50 or so students, which were always audio files of some sort. Listening to 50 audio files of the same recording, edited as per the requirements of an assignment was a form of aural torture the likes of which I hadn’t been through before, but it paid the rent. What happened as a result of this, however, was that I began to develop an ear for analyzing what I was listening to.

I received a pair of headphones from the professor I was working with- a pair of Sony MDR V150s. I didn’t have a pair of headphones before this, other than a dirt cheap gaming headset that I only had for the attached microphone. I mainly listened to music on in-ear style headphones. They were just meant to be tools to get the music from my phone and into my ear. I didn’t really care about sound quality back then, I was a broke student, and I just wanted something durable, portable, and I could buy for less than five hundred rupees.

The first pair of headphones that I had, that were worth anything- The Sony MDR V150s

I remember the first time I listened to music on the V150s. The song was the same, the source was the same, but it felt like there was an added dimension to the whole experience. A level of clarity I hadn’t had before, just by moving up from cheap in-ear headphones to over-the-ear ones. The V150s aren’t high-end headphones by any means, but the difference in sound quality was palpable.

Superlux HD 668B
The HD668Bs are still the headphones I use the most to this day.

After this realization, I began reading up on digital audio. Different file formats, different types of headphones and other audio gear. I began understanding about soundstage, imaging, and sound signatures that color the listening experience. I read forum posts, I watched youtube videos, and I even read articles about the various terms audiophiles used, like imaging, soundstage, and more scientific terms like frequency response. I started to learn about how you could modify headphones by swapping the earpads or modifying the sound-making components themselves. Analytical headphones, “fun” headphones, and high-end amplifiers to drive them- I read about it all, and I wanted it all.

I was still a broke student, though, and my only leap in terms of audio grat was getting a pair of Superlux HD668Bs because they were the best in the “under $50” category for both music and gaming. I still use those at work every day.    

Professional life and more professional audio gear

As I got a job and started my professional career, I finally had the means to fulfill some of my audiophile dreams. Not all of them, of course- there is no end to how high you can go in terms of audio gear. You just have to figure out what your “end game” is- at what point you feel like the money you’ve invested into your hobby is worth the returns, which diminish the higher you go.

I had already started to run into those diminishing returns when I bought my first “audiophile” gear that wasn’t just a pair of headphones. At some point, I picked up a DAC (digital to analog converter) and amplifier combination to see if it would be an improvement over my laptop’s inbuilt sound card. I got a good deal on it on a black Friday lightning sale, and I was really excited to expand my horizons once more. As I set it up and played song after song, however, it was clear that the difference in sound quality was meager at best. The difference was even smaller when I built my own PC. Either I’m at the end of my analytical ability, or there really isn’t that much of a perceptible difference in sound quality.  

The bigger difference was when I bought my third pair of headphones- the Phillips Fidelio X2s. The change was more of a lateral one for me honestly, the Superlux had more of treble emphasis and I wanted a warmer sound signature and more comfort, while also maintaining the soundstage (the ability to visualize where the sounds are coming from in a physical space, instead of it sounding like it’s right next to your ears, or inside your head.)

Another change I made was going from downloading music to streaming it using subscription services- internet connectivity is even better now, and I don’t need to spend the time downloading and organizing my music which is an added convenience. It also helps me discover more music, something I’m always trying to do.

What is all of this about?

My music listening habits didn’t just change linearly- I didn’t completely discard portability over sound quality, for example. I still listen to music on in-ear headphones on bus rides to and from work. It’s just that I’ve incorporated more music listening time into my life in general. Times where all I do is just sit down, put on some music, and listen to it without doing anything else.

I still plan on continuing on the path of upgrading the equipment I do have, though. Why? It all goes back to the first time I heard music on better equipment than what I already had. The experience of listening to a song you have heard hundreds of times before, and hearing something new in it that had gone completely unnoticed. The experience of hearing something you have heard before, the same aural painting, but in different colors, or under a different light. Hearing music happen around you as if you’re listening to a live rendition- being able to place where the drums are, where the guitar is, where the vocals are coming from, what sound effects the producer of the song has put into the mix…

Different seasons. Different perspectives. Looking at things in a different light. Looking back at things as you get older, and gaining new lessons from them. It’s all an allegory for life, really.

 

Rediscovering Intense “Wants”

Sometimes in life, I am inexplicably drawn to things. I just want them, and I don’t know why. I realized this when I watched a video review of the latest Subaru BRZ (Same as the Toyota 86 and the erstwhile Scion FR-S). I’ve gone into some detail about why I like cars and what they mean to me, but I wanted to talk about the concept of wanting something, in general.

 

“An artifact of an impressionable childhood mind”

When I was a child, I wanted a lot of things. A lot of different bits and baubles, a lot of shiny toys. My parents were nice enough to get me a lot of these toys, but I always

Batman Action Figure- Greg Capullo

This figure sits on my desk. 10-year old me would freak out if he saw it.

wanted the newest thing that caught my fancy. Now that I’m a little more grown up I realize it was because the advertisers were doing a great job at making their product look desirable to a young impressionable mind (perhaps that’s a little manipulative, but I digress).

I wanted a whole host of things as a child. Action figures, Hotwheels tracks, video games, and gaming consoles… the list goes on. I wanted it all; but I couldn’t have it all, of course— my parents didn’t want to spoil their child. I couldn’t have whatever I wanted, and the want was so intense— as childhood brains tend to work, it made me want those things even more. A huge part of my childhood was me wanting the latest Batman figure.

“It’s easier to brush these feelings away as a responsible adult”

I rarely feel that intense want of something anymore. Perhaps it is because I grew up and toys aimed at children don’t appeal to me anymore other than the occasional sentimental value. I do have a Batman figure at my desk at work, but I don’t feel intensely about it. Perhaps it was too easy to procure. Or, perhaps I’m not a 10-year old who wants to build a huge action figure collection anymore.

As I grew up, those feelings of temptation or intense wants grew fewer and farther in between. These days I only “kind of” want some things, and I mostly only think about the things I need. The last time I remember wanting something intensely was when Android smartphones were relatively new, and all I ever wanted was to be a gadget reviewer so I could have the latest phones without having to pay for them— the coveted “review samples”. But, that was when I was a kid in college— now I have a job. A combination of financial independence and Android-powered gadgets losing their novelty washed that “want” away.

“What we do here is go back”

The waning intensity of my wants is why I was so surprised when all of a sudden, I was in the throes of temptation once more, as I first saw a video featuring an orange Toyota 86. A rather beautiful looking car, close to some of those old Hotwheels cars I used to gawk at on store shelves. “Not the fastest car, but a fun car to drive,” the reviewer said. I kept looking at the car, and as I saw its badges and trim pieces, its sparse interior, and its little digital speed readout I couldn’t help but feel a mix of positive emotions wash over me. I didn’t know why, but I wanted it. I just wanted it.

So I watched this one video. Then another video. Then the next—and I kept watching others talk about this vehicle, its lack of power, its affordability, its fan base and before I knew it I was window-shopping online, looking at listings, imagining myself behind the wheel. I reveled in this sensation like I’d met an old friend. But then I stopped myself.

“A responsible adult”

 

callsaul

Like Jimmy McGill before he became Saul Goodman.

As I have gone over in a previous post, buying a car doesn’t make much practical sense. I am getting by just fine without one. I’m a grown up now, and adulthood is all about being responsible. About staying the course. About making a long-term goal and sticking with it till it comes to fruition. A moment of whimsy is nice to have once in a while but in the end, I have to put the blinders back on and focus on what’s important. What I truly need. I can’t just give in to temptation and live to regret it— I need to think about grown-up things now, like savings, and investments, and Demat accounts and credit scores and interest rates and rates of return, I need to make sure I have a plan for “wealth creation” and let the gods of compound interest help push me through life comfortably like a middle-aged man on a pool float, sipping a pina colada and soaking in some sun on a lazy river ride.

 

A car is to be bought only when I absolutely need one, and all it can be is a utensil, a utility, something that takes me from point A to point B, has a good resale value, great gas mileage, and the best reliability. I have to sit down with the child inside me and have a talk about the really important things in life. I have to tell myself that the joy of having overcome temptation is greater than giving into it.

 

But why don’t I believe it?

 

A Sunset

Thoughts after a sojourn in India

I visited India for the first time in nearly three years, and some of the experiences I had really made me think of the disparity between the Indian and the Western way of life, and what thinking about this difference taught me about myself.

The Bank

One of the first experiences I had after my arrival, was at a delightfully old school bank. Banking in America allows me the convenience of never visiting a physical branch if I so choose. But here I was, standing in line at the cash counter, having filled and signed two different forms, waiting for the grumpy middle-aged teller lady to hurry up. She didn’t hurry up, she just took her time, hunting and pecking at the keys on an archaic computer, getting up every so often to take a break or because she needed to get some more cash from the back room.

The bank could have had multiple tellers and the teller lady could have processed things much faster than she did but she didn’t— because in the few moments between you handing her the withdrawal slip and her giving you a wad of notes, she commanded power over you. In that brief time-slice, she had you looking at her in anticipation, waiting for your money, waiting for your deposit to go through, waiting for her “all clear”, like a defeated gladiator waiting to see if the emperor’s thumb goes up or down.

There is no reason for this bank to hold on to an outmoded way of doing business, but it does because they know they have their customers locked in. Customer Service starts and ends with just one quip—

“If you don’t like it, just open an account in some other bank”.

They know they have you locked in for life, they know you won’t go to another bank, and they know you will put up with an analog system of filling forms, attesting photocopied documents, and making sure you sign your photographs just the right way, with half your signature on the photo and the other half on the paper, just like they asked you to. And you will sign it exactly that way because you know they won’t shy away from making you fill that form out all over again.

Somehow, I found my experience with the bank more amusing than frustrating. Perhaps it was because I knew what to expect and I was in no hurry, but the fact that the cries of modernization just fell on deaf ears when it came to this regional bank was just a reminder of the realities of my home country, a grounding experience compared to the overtures of customer experience that the banks in the United States tend to have.

Travel by Road

I work with a lot of car related stuff, from infotainment to semi-autonomous driving, so I was looking forward to being able to juxtapose the “first world” vision of what driving is, with the realities of driving on Indian roads.

Here’s the thing— you can’t have your car keep you in your lane if there aren’t any lanes, to begin with. You don’t want to keep yourself in the middle of the lane, because nobody else is in the middle of their lane, because everyone is trying to either get ahead of you or to avoid larger vehicles. You don’t want to maintain a gap distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you, because you don’t want fifteen two-wheeled vehicles cutting you off. You definitely don’t want the car to detect speed limits and traffic lights, because you don’t want some dude on a motorbike yelling “Is this your first time on the road?” at you as he crawls up to the middle of the intersection before the light turns green, and completely disregards the posted speed limit as he zooms off into the distance weaving through traffic.

Screenshot_20180930-152626

Nobody wants to stop, and everyone wants to get there as fast as possible.

You don’t even want lane departure warnings, because most smaller roads have cars parked on the sides which effectively reduces a two-lane road to a lane and a quarter. You’re lucky if you don’t encounter a 3-row SUV coming towards you in the opposite direction.

 

Don’t even get me started about the potholes.

The truth is, if you want to create a semi or fully autonomous driving system for a country like India, you need to completely re-imagine what driving on a road is compared to what it is in North America. You need to understand the mind of an Indian driver— impatient, irritable, and under a constant pressure to be alert and get where he/she needs to be as fast as possible.

That’s a metaphor for Indian society as a whole— everyone wants to get somewhere they’re not, everyone wants to be better than everyone else, and there’s just so many people and obstacles in the way, that you really feel a compulsive need to do it as fast and as ruthlessly as possible, even if it means sacrificing your own health and wellbeing.

The Dermatologist

The most painful experience I had during my time in India, was at the dermatologist. My mother was concerned about my hair situation and decided I should get a professional consultation. I spent nearly three hours in the waiting room, watching some guys try to learn water buffalo racing before I was called in.

edf

The emotional pain I experienced can be summed up by the phrase

“This kind of hair would be fine if you were ten years older.”

Now, as a man in his mid-20s I already have plenty of things I worry about, but until now, my hair was not one of them. I returned to the United States with a new thing to obsess over and a year’s supply of hair care products.

I’m not going to blame the doctor for what she said and the effect it had on me— they were just doing their job and offering their honest professional opinion. I’m just going to use it to highlight another aspect of Indian society.

The fact that there’s a lot of people in India, and there are a million people waiting to take your place in case you falter doesn’t go well with the idealistic notions of only comparing yourself to yourself, and taking the time to discover yourself and what you really want to do in life. Combine that with parental concern that comes from a genuine desire to see their child “succeed” in the materialistic definition of the term, and you get a recipe for misery.

A night out with friends

Marine lines

An impromptu visit to Marine Drive. Pro tip- if you’re having an ice gola, ask for some extra ice to wash your hands afterward.

This was what I was looking most forward to. Meeting friends, reminiscing about times past, catching up on each others’ lives. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with some friends from my days in Junior College, a group of people who I managed to maintain great ties with and not push away with my eclecticism.

In the moments I spent with them, shooting the breeze at the shores of the Arabian sea, the sounds of fast trains rattling by as we sat on benches eating street food, I wasn’t some out of shape 20-something with a dad-bod and a receding hairline, I wasn’t some man-child with no vision for the future, I wasn’t some loser with no love life, I was their friend, and they were my friends, and all was right with the world.

The time I spent with them meant so much more to me than anything else I experienced in those few days. A group of friends for whom you are enough— just you, whoever you are, wherever you are at in life, whatever you are doing, just you, your banter, the same old topics, a conversation that never ceases, and ties much greater than just some quid pro quo agreement.

A distinct dearth of true friends in close proximity is one of my greatest laments about living in the Midwest. Making friends as an adult is weirdly difficult, and even if you do make friends, the ties are never as strong as the ones you forged in your childhood and adolescence.

Reflection

Going back to my home country, I was faced once more with the realities of what it takes to stay relevant in a hyper-competitive world— tenacity, impatience, aggression, a “go-getter attitude” (whatever that means), and trying your best to achieve the goals that either you have set or have been set for you, even if it means sacrificing your peace of mind, your health, and your overall wellbeing. There is no time to rest because every time you achieve something, you will be hounded by thoughts of what’s next.

You will have your faults constantly being pointed out to you, often by people who genuinely just want to see you get ahead of the competition and “succeed”. You will have to constantly work on things that are supposed to raise your standard of living and your place in society, but funnily enough, have an adverse effect on your mental and physical health.

But what are we to do? That’s just the grim reality of the modern world, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. You have to spin all of these things in a way that appears positive. Call it “personal growth”, “an achiever’s mindset”, or whatever you need to.

All this stems from the idea that at some level, you as you are, are not enough. Inadequate. You need something more to really give meaning to your own life. You need these objective material markers, these milestones of achievement, to truly become something more, something better, a “successful” person.

I don’t believe that at all.

One of the things I marveled over in the early days of my move to the United States, is the focus on individuality, and how some people took their own time to work on whatever goals they had, whether they be professional or personal goals. This was new to me because my whole life up to that point had existed under the tacit social agreement that was that “certain things needed to be done at certain times”. You complete your education at a certain age. You get married at a certain age. You have a family at a certain age. You must do certain things in a certain way because you need to “compete with these people— the best and the brightest, and they will not stop for you to catch up with them”.

This mindset meant that I had a genuine inability to truly be happy for others and their achievements, and that is an extremely toxic way to be. As I have grown older and am now on the other side of the mid-20s, I’m beginning to be more accepting of people and am trying to be genuinely involved in their happiness. Life is too short to be constantly jealous.

So what is the “right” way to live life anyway? Following an age-old tradition? Venturing out into the great unknown by your lonesome and facing things as they come? It is an interesting juxtaposition. Maybe there is no right way. All I know is, I’ve spent way too long beating myself up about things, and I want to spend some time focusing on what I’ve done right.